There was a lot in President Obama’s address last night that will satisfy his polling team. Many of the president’s proposals rest on solid ground when it comes to public opinion. But at the same time, on many of the night’s major topics, Americans hold views that pull them in multiple directions. Support for the president’s agenda isn’t clear. In three areas in particular, the president will need to argue his policy proposals supersede competing concerns.
1) Fairness. The president’s proposal to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans receives wide public support. In a recent CBS poll, 60 percent agreed that taxes should be increased on those earning a million dollars or more. But when it comes to the issue these tax increases are intended to address, the deficit, Americans aren’t eager to pay more. Americans generally prefer spending cuts to tax increases as a solution to the deficit. In a December AP-GfK poll, 60 percent preferred that lawmakers focus on cutting services as opposed to increasing taxes in order to balance the deficit.
2) Wall Street. Wall Street isn’t exactly the most popular institution in America, so the president certainly scored points making the case for increased regulation of the financial sector. In Gallup’s annual confidence in institutions poll, Wall Street ranked 16th out of 16 institutions tested. But attitudes towards the financial sector are also related to concerns over the economy. A majority of 54 percent told Harris pollsters in 2011 that Wall Street benefits the country overall and 62 percent agreed that Wall Street is absolutely essential because it provides the money businesses must have for investment. In addition, Americans are highly suspicious of new regulations. A majority of Americans told National Journal pollsters that government regulation of businesses has been a “major factor” in the current economic slowdown.
3) Outsourcing. The president challenged American companies to bring jobs back to America and clearly took issue with companies outsourcing jobs overseas. It’s no surprise that outsourcing isn’t exactly a popular phenomenon among Americans. Sixty-seven percent told National Journal pollsters in 2010 that outsourcing had played a major role in the high unemployment of the past few years. But when you ask Americans about trade with other countries, their views are more mixed. Most Americans acknowledge that they benefit as consumers from international trade. A majority also believe that American companies benefit overall.
In Governor Mitch Daniels’s response speech, he laid out alternative policies and claimed these proposals rested on core American values. Both the president and the governor focused on similar goals, like helping the middle class, and both laid claim to American values as support for their proposals. Public opinion seems to be receptive to both interpretations. It seems that both the president and Republicans have their work cut out for them.